Wealthy countries are making it harder and harder for the world’s most desperate people to seek refuge.
This month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the Trump administration to enforce new rules banning most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. The order comes only weeks after Donald Trump announced that the U.S. government will start detaining asylum-seeking migrant families indefinitely until their cases are decided. Before that, the U.S. began implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, which mandates that people who cross the U.S. from Mexico must return to Mexico until they can have their day in court. And last month, the U.S. also reached a so-called “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala, requiring asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to seek asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States.
When taken together, experts say, these policies are a deliberate project aimed at making it impossible to claim asylum at the U.S southern border. “It’s been an overwhelming barrage of policies aimed at limiting access to asylum,” said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas.
The humanitarian costs are already piling up. Experts have warned that detaining families indefinitely will lead to psychological harm for children and denies asylum seekers due process. There is growing evidence that, as predicted, the Migrant Protection Protocol will actually put migrants at greater risk by forcing them to stay in dangerous situations in Mexico without necessary protections. Guatemala, a proposed “safe third country” is not, in fact, a safe place for asylum seekers.
Yet these policies are by no means unique to the United States or the Trump administration, and experts say they fit a broader pattern of rich democracies around the globe outsourcing the dirty work of border control, and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the process, in order to block asylum seekers from reaching their borders. As the U.S. and Europe systematically build barriers to seeking asylum, a broader question is emerging: Is the right to seek asylum disappearing?